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A Good Man Is Hard to Find | Study Guide

Flannery O'Connor

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A Good Man Is Hard to Find | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


Why is it significant the grandmother calls to Bailey as he is led away to his death but looks at The Misfit in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

As Bailey is led away to be killed, he calls out to the grandmother. The grandmother calls back to him twice, and the second time she cries, "Bailey Boy!" At this point "she [is] looking at The Misfit squatting on the ground in front of her." The grandmother and The Misfit continue speaking. Later The Misfit ends up wearing Bailey's shirt, and "the grandmother [can't] name what the shirt [reminds] her of." The Misfit takes Bailey's place, and he has more of a relationship with the grandmother than Bailey did. They have a lengthy conversation and discuss meaningful topics. The Misfit shows more respect and interest than Bailey did. As the grandmother turns to The Misfit after Bailey is taken away, she acknowledges that her fate is in his hands.

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" in what ways does The Misfit believe his situation is similar to that of Jesus?

The Misfit cannot remember what deed he has committed that deserves imprisonment. He has been told he killed his father but is sure that is not true. He believes that eventually "you're going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it." He also says he can't "make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment." This conviction has led The Misfit to identify himself with Jesus, saying it was "the same case with Him as with me except He hadn't committed any crime." Jesus died for the sins of others rather than for any actions He carried out. The Misfit believes that he has been misunderstood by society and made to suffer for sins that he is convinced he did not commit.

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" how does O'Connor use dialect, or speech patterns, to develop her characters and support the story's setting?

One of the ways O'Connor roots her story in the rural South of the 1950s is through her characters' regional dialect—their manner of speaking—which includes their vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. The characters' dialect may also reveal their social class. The grandmother's family lives in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. They all are seemingly educated and speak standard English. The grandmother uses rare examples of regional speech, such as "aloose" in place of "loose." She does, however, use offensive terms for African Americans, which is in keeping with the region and the time period of the story. As the story moves from the major city of Atlanta to rural Georgia, O'Connor uses characters' dialects to indicate their social standing and the place they come from. Red Sammy Butts's wife, for example, describes her concern that The Misfit might "attact this place ... if he hears it's two cent in the cash register." The Misfit and his accomplices reveal a lower-class background with phrases such as "yes'm," "if you hadn't of reckernized me," "I don't reckon he meant to talk to you thataway," and "It'll take a half a hour to fix this here car." Although not strictly an example of dialect, O'Connor also reveals much about John Wesley and June Star through their exaggerated speech. John Wesley's speech is peppered with childish contractions such as "dontcha" and "whatcha." June Star describes her own and other characters' distaste for certain activities by saying they would not do those things "for a million bucks." O'Connor displays the children's excitement through the use of capital letters in their speech: "We've had an ACCIDENT!"

For what purpose is the grandmother compared to a turkey hen as she is talking to The Misfit in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

At this point the grandmother is on the verge of dying at the hands of The Misfit and his men. She has no one left to save her. A turkey hen makes a yelping sound when it is calling out to its young. Similarly the grandmother is calling out—unsuccessfully—for Bailey. He, along with the rest of the family, has already been shot and is dead at this point. Despite her yelps Bailey cannot hear her and is of no use to her now. She is on her own and vulnerable. Like a turkey, she is helpless. The grandmother will be sacrificed despite her cries.

Why does the grandmother reach out to The Misfit and call him one of her babies in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

The Misfit feels great emotional pain. He longs to know the truth about whether Jesus raised the dead. He feels this knowledge would change him, "and I wouldn't be like I am now." When The Misfit says these words, his face becomes twisted, and he appears ready to cry. At this moment the grandmother feels genuine empathy for The Misfit. She wants to comfort him and therefore says kind words and reaches out and touches him. The Misfit's words, actions, and feelings have had an emotional effect on the grandmother. As she reaches out to The Misfit, it is the first time in the story that she acts in a truly decent manner and has a real connection with another person. With the fear of death hanging over her, the grandmother is no longer smug and judgmental. She is able to see The Misfit as an equal and is not concerned about herself. She feels compassion for another human being.

How does the grandmother achieve grace in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

O'Connor believed that the only way to move people who are in a fallen state is through a dramatic experience. For the grandmother that experience is her life being put into danger by The Misfit and his men. With her life hanging in the balance, the grandmother acts in a decent, kind, genuine, and charitable manner. She reaches out to The Misfit—a murderer whom she surely sees as beneath her. This act comes from a sincere and unpretentious place. Love is in the grandmother's heart, and it comes out with her act toward The Misfit. Because of this action she achieves grace.

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" in what ways does O'Connor's use of similes increase the impact of the story?

O'Connor frequently incorporates colorful similes that add to readers' perception of the story's setting and other elements of the narrative. When the family passes a cotton field "with five or six graves fenced in the middle of it, like a small island," the graves seem to be afloat in a sea of cotton. Similar to this "island" of graves, the six family members will soon be surrounded. Rather than an innocent sea, however, it will be The Misfit's murderous gang that hems them in. The grandmother's valise "[looks] like the head of a hippopotamus." Just as a hippopotamus often submerges its body in a river, with only its head showing, so has the grandmother placed her valise on top of Pitty Sing's basket, effectively hiding the stowaway below. O'Connor's similes also convey the narrator's view of the characters, often illustrating their vulnerability: The children's mother's bland face portrays her as being "innocent as a cabbage," an image that plays out in the course of the story. When Bailey resists the children's nagging, his rising tension is revealed as his jaw becomes "as rigid as a horseshoe." In the aftermath of the accident the terrified Pitty Sing "[clings] to [Bailey's] neck like a caterpillar." This image of dozens of tiny clutching feet helps readers visualize Pitty Sing holding on for dear life.

Why is it significant that when the grandmother dies her legs are crossed and she is smiling like a child in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

At the conclusion of the story the grandmother experiences an epiphany, which can be defined as a quick or sudden understanding of something significant. Throughout the story the grandmother is not a likable character due to her critical, selfish, and judgmental ways. However, as the grandmother dies she comes to see the error of her ways. Her last words, "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children!" show an understanding and appreciation for others. She cares about another and has abandoned her selfish ways. The grandmother's rediscovered decency is childlike. She is smiling as she looks to heaven because in death she has learned about decency and therefore has achieved grace.

In "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" what is the significance of The Misfit's statement that the grandmother "would of been a good woman"?

While speaking to Bobby Lee, The Misfit says for the grandmother to be a good woman it would have been necessary for there to be "somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life." By this statement The Misfit shows he realizes the grandmother was not a good woman. He can see her selfishness and her false claims of piety. She was not the woman she claimed to be. The Misfit also grasps the grandmother's final act of decency, when—recognizing herself and The Misfit both to be children of God—she tries to extend this moment of grace to him. This act, which occurs only when the grandmother is near to death, shows she has goodness inside of her. That goodness needed prompting—the threat of death—in order for it to be displayed.

What does The Misfit's changing definition of pleasure signify in "A Good Man Is Hard to Find"?

While discussing with the grandmother whether or not Jesus raised the dead, The Misfit says if that story is true, then people need to abandon all else and follow Jesus. However, The Misfit long ago decided Jesus did not raise the dead and the right thing for him to do is to "enjoy the few minutes [he has] left" by killing people, burning down houses, or "some other meanness. ... No pleasure but meanness." Although The Misfit has seemed mild-mannered to this point, this declaration shows him to be a hardened criminal and murderer. He kills and is mean for pleasure. When the grandmother reaches out to him in genuine care, The Misfit undergoes a change. He tells Bobby Lee, "It's no real pleasure in life." By saying this The Misfit seems to mean that meanness—killing and other evil acts—no longer bring him pleasure. The grandmother's moment of grace has touched him as well.

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